I have been serving in Christian higher education for over a decade now. Each year, at least one college student asks me this question: “What should I do during my summer break?” Or the parents will ask, “My son or daughter is coming home for the summer, so what should...
What does your stream of consciousness sound like?
There are words floating through my mind at all times; some are good and purposeful, and others are not. My mental monologue generally contains too much self-focused and self-defeating babble.
“What a stupid thing to say!” (Imaginary palm to the forehead.) “Did she just ignore me?” (Anger, followed by a fearful feeling that I am easily forgotten.) “That’s a good idea for a blog post…or maybe it’s just dumb.” (Internal debate.) “I’d like to ________, but I don’t know if I can pull it off.” (Who do I think I am?)
On, and on it goes. It’s exhausting.
My mind needs a refresher. Maybe you too will benefit from these steps.
Step 1: Ask the Lord to guard and direct your mind.
My mind is the place of my intellect, reasoning, and intentions; my behavior begins in my mind, and my mind is where spiritual transformation happens (Romans 12:2). The object of my regular thinking will determine how my days, years, and ultimately my life plays out. Everything starts in the mind.
Too often, I simply don’t bother to ask for the Lord’s protection, direction, and oversight of my mind. From now on, I will do my best to start my day with a simple prayer: Jesus, by your Holy Spirit, keep my mind firmly set where you want it to be focused today.
Step 2: Recognize the source of self-focused and self-defeating thoughts.
Given that my behavior begins in my mind, and my mind is where spiritual transformation happens, is it any surprise that the adversary wants to mess with my thinking? It must be his favorite first attempt to distract and disarm Christians, and it usually works.
I have experienced periods of mental oppression that seem almost physical. A feeling of heaviness accompanies my self-defeating thoughts. Most of the time, I realize that I am engaged in a spiritual battle of some sort, but I cannot immediately free myself of it. I pray. I confess. I read God’s Word. I pray some more. (It should be noted that in my case this is not clinical depression and, if it were, I would seek medical treatment.)
Eventually my mind is unencumbered, but it is not because I thought positively enough or talked myself out of it. That may work temporarily, but it won’t root out the problem. I know who the enemy is, and I also know the only One who can defeat him.
Recognize the enemy, and fight him with God’s power and with Scriptural truth.
Step 3: Replace self-focused thinking with a God-focused mindset.
After praying for the Lord to protect my mind and recognizing the enemy, I have a choice. Will I train my brain to concentrate on the things of God, or will I let it be consumed by the things of this world?
To focus my mind on God requires some work. If I don’t take purposeful action to set my mind on Jesus Christ, then I’m allowing my mind to go anywhere it wants to go. I know where it will go, and it’s nowhere good.
I know myself. So, even when I am fully confident of God’s love and care, I still must decide what I will and will not think about.
The following verses help me to set my mind on things above, and not on earthly things:
If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. (Colossians 3:1-2)
For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit. (Romans 8:5)
Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. (Philippians 4:8)
Step 4: Rest in the truth that you are accepted in Jesus Christ.
I’ll pray for the Lord to protect my mind, help me recognize the enemy, and work to keep my mind focused on God. Sometimes I will be successful, and sometimes I will not be. Over time, it will be more often the former.
There are days when all I can do is rest in the truth that I am at peace with God, that I am free from accusation, and that I am God’s child.
Through faith in Jesus Christ, we are at peace with God. “Therefore, since we have been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
In Christ, we are free from accusation. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
In Christ, we are children of God and heirs along with Jesus. “The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ…” (Romans 8:16-17).
My identity in Jesus Christ is the central fact that influences my present circumstances and determines my eternal future, and it is available by faith alone. Don’t doubt; don’t wonder; don’t question it.
Accept God’s gracious gift, and rest in it.
Step 5: Repeat steps 1-4 daily.
By using these five techniques, I hope that the next time I feel stupid, ignored, or I question my ability, I will learn to test my thinking. God doesn’t condemn me, so I know that thoughts of self-condemnation are not from him. There is no fear in God’s love, so when I feel afraid or defeated, I can safely ignore those thoughts too.
Ultimately, God wants me to be transformed to be like his Son, Jesus. Jesus did not engage in the type of mental machinations that I’ve described—he was totally focused on the will of the Father. Because that was true of him, it will increasingly be true of me…and someday, that work in me will be complete.